US and Ukraine at odds over threat of Russian invasion

By Eliza Mackintosh, Ed Upright, Meg Wagner, Melissa Macaya, Aditi Sangal and Adrienne Vogt, CNN

Updated 5:45 p.m. ET, January 28, 2022
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7:42 a.m. ET, January 28, 2022

Russian gas shutdown would be "catastrophic" for Europe

Analysis from CNN Business' Julia Horowitz

View of pipe systems and shut-off devices at the gas receiving station of the Nord Stream 2 Baltic Sea pipeline at Mecklenburg-Western Pomerania, Germany, on January 7.
View of pipe systems and shut-off devices at the gas receiving station of the Nord Stream 2 Baltic Sea pipeline at Mecklenburg-Western Pomerania, Germany, on January 7. (Stefan Sauer/picture alliance/Getty Images)

The United States and its allies are racing to draw up contingency plans in case supplies of Russian gas crucial to powering businesses and heating homes in Europe are choked off by conflict in Ukraine.

Europe would struggle to survive for long without Russian gas, and finding alternative sources presents a huge logistical challenge -- a reality that's stoking concerns about the continent's access to energy during an already difficult winter.

"There's not really a quick and easy alternative," said Janis Kluge, an expert on Eastern Europe at the German Institute for International and Security Affairs.

Senior White House officials told reporters this week they are talking to countries and companies about ramping up output. They're also trying to identify alternative sources of natural gas that could be rerouted to Europe.

Yet executing such a large intervention in energy markets would be tricky. New pipelines and gas liquefaction facilities take years to build. And redirecting large volumes of the fossil fuel at a time when the global market and transport networks are already stretched would require cooperation from major gas exporters like Qatar, which may not have much wiggle room.

Read the full story here:

6:32 a.m. ET, January 28, 2022

What you need to know about the Russia-Ukraine crisis today

From CNN's Eliza Mackintosh

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy speaks with U.S. President Joe Biden over the telephone in his office in Kyiv, Ukraine, on Friday.
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy speaks with U.S. President Joe Biden over the telephone in his office in Kyiv, Ukraine, on Friday. (Ukrainian Presidential Press Office/AP)

The Biden administration is taking the reins in the tense standoff between Russia and Ukraine, coordinating the response to Moscow’s threatening maneuvers in Eastern Europe alongside his European Union counterparts with all the urgency of a Cold War-era crisis.

In the latest sign of that urgency, US President Joe Biden held a “long and frank” phone call with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky on Thursday, trying to impress upon him the imminent possibility of a Russian invasion. The call came as the Pentagon warned that Russia had ramped up its military presence on the Ukrainian border rapidly in just 24 hours.

Biden told Zelensky that the US and its allies would “respond decisively if Russia further invades Ukraine,” according to a White House statement, though he did not make clear how. A senior Ukrainian official told CNN that, amid disagreements over the “risk levels” of an attack by Russia, which has amassed more than 100,000 troops along Ukraine’s border, the call “did not go well." The White House, however, has disputed that account.

Western officials are continuing to push for a diplomatic solution to the tensions, with Biden emerging as the leader in efforts to counter threats from Russian President Vladimir Putin to Ukraine and NATO.

On Wednesday, the US and NATO submitted separate written responses to Russia's publicly aired concerns, an overture that Moscow had requested. The Russians, who are demanding that the West promise Ukraine will never join NATO, delivered a muted reaction to the US responses on Thursday, saying there were "few reasons for optimism, but would refrain from conceptual assessments," casting a cloud over the future of negotiations.

The US is not only leaning on diplomatic efforts, having put 8,500 troops on notice for deployment to Eastern Europe, sending weapons to Ukraine, and threatening to halt the opening of Nord Stream 2, a key pipeline that would send Russian gas to Western Europe.

Here's what else you need to know today:

  • Speaking to Russian journalists this morning about the US and NATO's written responses to Moscow's request for security guarantees, Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov said that the American response was "a gold standard of diplomatic courtesy," while the response from NATO was "full of itself."
  • In his annual address to the nation, Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko said that the country must "equip its army" for potential war. Russian troops have been pouring into neighboring Belarus for joint-military exercises, "to cover our shout and borders," Lukashenko said. Ukrainian officials fear they will serve as a "full-fledged theater of operations" from which to launch an attack.
  • French President Emmanuel Macron and Putin are due to speak via telephone to discuss tensions over Ukraine. 
  • NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg will take part in an online event on the response of the Western military alliance to tensions in Europe.
  • Ukrainian President Zelensky is scheduled to address foreign media later on.